Have you ever noticed how two people can experience the exact same thing and respond completely different. Think about being introduced to a new initiative at work. One person complains about how hard it will be while another person considers it an opportunity to learn how to do something better.
We all know that person who is just never happy about anything. Sure, we all complain, but you might be surprised at just how much. Research shows that most people complain once a minute during casual conversation and around 20 times throughout the day.
The traffic is insane.
I have had it with this weather!
I asked for no pickles; I got pickles!
Most of us generally don’t complain with the intention of being negative, rather we think we'll feel better if we get it out and someone validates our feelings. However, not only does complaining tend to make us – and the people around us – feel worse, it’s also bad for us.
The more frequently we complain, the easier it becomes to be negative than to be positive, regardless of what's happening around you. Chronic complaining rewires the brain to make complaining your default behavior, which changes how you feel and how you show up in the world.
Complaining rarely explains the situation as much as it explains the person.
Over time, the body increases the production of stress hormone cortisol shifting into fight-or-flight mode. When this happens, the brain directs oxygen, blood and energy away from everything but the systems that are essential to immediate survival. All that extra cortisol results in high blood pressure and blood sugar so as to address the threat. It also makes us more susceptible to serious conditions like diabetes, heart disease and strokes.
A 2019 study found that on average, optimists tend to live longer than pessimists. Optimism is specifically related to 11 to 15% longer life span, on average, and to greater odds of achieving “exceptional longevity,” that is, living to the age of 85 or beyond.
If all of that isn’t enough to make you want to tame your complainer, you should know that it also damages the brain. Research from Stanford University has shown that complaining shrinks the hippocampus -- an area of the brain that's critical to problem solving and intelligent thought. In addition, brain cells begin to shrivel, and the dendrite branches that they use to communicate with other neurons wither away.
So, how can we avoid all of these pitfalls of “chronic complainer syndrome”? Here are three simple ways to start:
Pay attention to your complaints. Track how many times you complain about anything – work, kids, spouse, the weather, the economy – for an hour. Keep a tally for an hour, then an entire day.
Ban complaining for a day. Make it an intentional goal not to complain about anything for an entire day. When you catch yourself griping about something – and you probably will – walk it back and consciously rephrase it.
Trade complaints for gratitude. When feel yourself ready to gripe, grumble or whine, shift your attention to one specific person, place or thing for which you are grateful. There is a wealth of research sharing scientific proof of the physical, emotional, and mental benefits of making gratitude an intentional part of your routine.